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Mayor Pitches Program To Prevent Inmate Returns To Rikers Island

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The number of prisoners on Rikers Island continues to fall, but the same people keep being sent back, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new program Thursday designed to prevent some of those returns. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't visit Rikers Island often.

"I think the last time I did that here was a women's correctional thing on Christmas Day," he said.

He wants to make sure the 88,000 inmates passing through every year cut down on their visits as well.

"Repeated prison or jail sentences leave former inmates trapped in poverty and in cycles of crime," Bloomberg said.

The mayor announced a new program on Thursday to cut the recidivism rate for some of Rikers' most frequent visitors by 10 percent.

"New York is the first city to try this approach with pre-trial detainees," Bloomberg said.

That approach means partnering with two nonprofit organizations to give these inmates tools to use on the outside.

"People's families is kind of a key," said Elizabeth Gaynes of the Osborne Association. "People who stay connected to their families are six times less likely to come back."

It might be making sure an inmate has an ID or a place to go when they leave.

"Housing will be a desperate need of people," said JoAnne Page of the Fortune Society. "Substance abuse treatment, periods of sobriety are really, really important."

The population on Rikers Island may be getting smaller, but the same individuals keep on coming back. Those individuals have a higher rate of mental illness or drug abuse, and almost 70 percent of those higher risk inmates come back to Rikers within a year.

"About 85 percent of our population has been with us one or more times before," said Dora Schriro, commissioner of the Department of Correction.

Those inmates are the ones being targeted, and the nonprofits won't get paid unless they can show results.

"Can we get them housed in a stable way? Can we reconnect them with their families? Can we get them a job? Can we get them into treatment?" Gaynes said.

"And each of those has a price tag," Page said.

They said it's all doable so doors stay open to opportunity instead of a jail cell.

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